5 Things to Explore at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project

Summer is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest with the fall season peeking over the horizon. Before we know it, school will be back in session, leaves will start to change colors and the days will begin to get shorter. Now is the time to plan that one last road trip before Labor Day. City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project is just a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle and offers fantastic views and stops along the way! Nestled in North Cascades National Park, Skagit offers majestic mountain views, emerald waters and a rich history of providing clean energy to the Puget Sound. Here are a few of our favorite must-dos!

1) Explore the wares at the Skagit County General Store

Since 1922, the Skagit General Store has provided provisions for City Light employees and, more recently, road warriors alike. Today, employees and visitors alike can purchase milk, soda, and snacks, plus camping and picnic supplies. The store is especially known for its delicious homemade fudge! While they do offer samples, you’ll probably leave with a pound…or two.
(While you’re in Newhalem, be sure to get a selfie with Old Engine 6, the decommissioned train engine on the side of Highway 20!)


2) Feel the refreshing spray of water on Lake Diablo

Hop aboard the Alice Ross IV (named after the wife of City Light’s first superintendent, J.D. Ross) and set out on a tour of Diablo Lake. Experience parts of the lake that are typically hidden from view when traveling by highway or hiking on trails. Your tour will come alive with stories about the early explorers and settlers in the area and the challenges of dams and powerhouses in a very remote location. Skagit Tours offers lunch and afternoon tours. Between the almost-ethereal emerald waters and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, it will be a trip you will not soon forget.
Click here to register for a lake tour!

3) Climb around Ladder Creek Falls

Next to the Gorge Powerhouse flows the Ladder Creek Falls. A flight of stairs brings you close to the falls surging through imposing rock formations.
J.D. Ross envisioned and treated the Skagit Project as a theme park, and remnants of that vision are still visible to this day, specifically: the illuminated falls. At night, the falls come alive with color that change by the minute. The best way to experience falls is following Skagit Tours’ renowned Dam Good Chicken Dinner*, a meal that has been enjoyed for decades. It’s a Skagit Project essential!
*A vegetarian option is also available.  

4) Sign up for a class at the North Cascades Institute

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s mission is to inspire and empower environmental stewardship for all through transformative educational experiences in nature. This beautiful facility was constructed with support from City Light and is operated by the North Cascades Institute. NCI offers classes that range in age range, duration and interest.
Click here to learn more!

5) Drive (or walk!) across Diablo Dam

Last, but certainly not least, the views from Diablo Dam are not to be missed on your excursion in Skagit. Just off of Highway 20, Diablo Dam provides a 360° view of mountains and Lake Diablo. Stick around and take a lake tour or venture out one of the many trails in the area.

These are just a few of our favorite things to explore in the area. Now it’s time for you to make your own must-do Skagit Project list! Learn more about the variety of tours offered through Skagit Tours. We’re confident you’ll find a tour that will pique your interest! But book soon! Most tours run through September and space is limited.

Click here to get started. See you soon in Skagit!


Skagit Tour Season Kicks Off With Familiarization Event

The beauty of our national parks can be a highlight to any summer. Our Skagit Tour season kicked off in late June with a familiarization event, framed by the stunning North Cascades National Park. That’s a long title for hosting a diverse group of media, agency representatives, and social media influencers who in turn post or publish to promote the tours. The 15 participants were treated to a hybrid version of our Skagit Tours and, as you can see from the photo, captured some great weather and material for their posts.

Get a first-hand familiarization yourself! Our boat-based tours provide a wonderful way to experience the majestic mountains of the North Cascades and glistening Diablo Lake with views that are not accessible by foot or car. Our land-based tours feature the beautiful simplicity of hydropower, the amazing history of our company town, and a lighted waterfalls walk with a famous chicken dinner. Register today at: skagittours.com or (360) 854-2589.

Photo credit: Nathan MacDonald, Seattle City Light


Safeguarding Skagit: Inside the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project provides clean and efficient energy to Seattle’s customers, and its idyllic location provides spectacular, Instagram-worthy views of the North Cascades and Diablo Lake. Being nestled in such a remote location does have its advantages, but it can also provide its share of challenges when minutes count. During an emergency—whether someone has a bump or bruise during a dam tour or is involved in a serious traffic accident on the North Cascades Highway—a team of City Light employees take action, changing from their daily roles at the utility to act as members of the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade.

For almost 60 years, this mostly volunteer group of first responders has gone above and beyond their assigned work duties at City Light to safeguard the residents and property of City Light, the Skagit Project and the North Cascades National Park. Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson explains “the brigade fights fires and provides an emergency response like a typical fire department would; there are situations that require backup.” That’s why in 2008, a specialized group called the Skagit Technical Response Team (STRT) was created to supplement the brigade and provide aid during unusual rescue situations. Like the brigade, STRT is a team of City Light employees who are trained beyond their day-to-day skills.

In 2016, the brigade was crucial to the containment of the Goodell Creek Fire, which severely threatened the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and the surrounding communities. For Watson, an emergency of any size is important because of the brigade’s local impact.

“We have helped friends, family, co-workers and strangers who are often having the worst day of their lives,” says Watson. “The brigade provides services that no one else in this geographical area can. When the fire alarm goes off, they have to switch gears and put on a different hat. We have a pretty extraordinary team up here.”

Last November, the fire brigade added a new vehicle to their fleet, a state-of-the-art ambulance. The new vehicle replaced a unit that had been in service for nearly 25 years. Watson and the brigade worked closely with the City Light Fleet and Mobile Equipment team to build a unit that meets their unique needs. Some of the unique features include snow chains that engage with a flip of a switch, a hydraulic lift and cabin airbags to protect first responders when treating a patient.

Thank you, Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade, for keeping the City Light employees and its visitors safe!


Experience the majestic beauty of the North Cascades next summer on a Skagit Tour. Skagit Tours provide a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. Visit https://www.seattle.gov/light/damtours/skagit.asp for more information!

Last Chance for a Skagit Powerhouse Insiders Tour

Summer is winding down, but you can still close it out with a scenic and historic getaway. The Powerhouse Insiders tour, found at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project in the North Cascades, never fails to delight visitors. This weekend is your last chance to explore it this season!

The tour begins with a beautiful stroll through the historic town of Newhalem. Visitors learn about the town’s unique history through insightful and entertaining tour guides. Be prepared to feel like you have traveled back to the 1920s as you explore the original construction camp for the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. During your walk, you will look on at the breathtaking Skagit River and learn how City Light promotes a healthy ecosystem for salmon.

Next, you’ll see the wonders of hydropower at work inside the Gorge Powerhouse, which is normally closed to the public. (We don’t call it an insider’s tour for nothing.) You’ll walk the generator floor and learn how City Light makes and manages power. There will be expert tour guides accompanying you, so feel free to ask questions. It’s a powerful experience.

After a full afternoon of adventure and fun, you’re sure to work up an appetite.  Don’t worry, because we’ve got you covered. Our cooks have been making tasty picnic lunches for almost 90 years! Enjoy a picnic lunch of chicken (or a vegetarian option) and a side of potato salad to conclude your tour.

We would love to have you along on our Powerhouse Insiders tour before it closes for the season. Don’t miss your chance! Sign up today: http://www.seattle.gov/light/damtours/skagittours.asp

Seattle City (spot)Light: Mark VanOss

Mark VanOss has worked for the City of Seattle for 28 years and is currently in the utility’s communications department as a senior public relations specialist within the community outreach team. In his role, Mark updates the public on various projects occurring in neighborhoods throughout City Light’s service territory. “Construction projects often involve excavation in front of a business or a power outage to a home,” Mark explained. “We need to care for our customers in the way that we’d like to be cared for.”

Mark grew up in a rural part of Ohio that evoked a small-town feel – his dad was his high school principal! He attended Miami University and received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science Education and later received a Master’s degree from the College of Forest Resources in Outdoor Recreation from the University of Washington. His early dream at the UW was to alternate seasons between national parks – working summers in Mt. Rainier and winters at Joshua Tree.

Mark lives with his wife Jean in north Seattle and together they have three children, all of whom were City Light Employee Association scholarship recipients. They recently welcomed a grandchild, Elsie. “She was named after my mother who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year,” Mark shared. In this week’s (spot)Light, Mark talks about parks, birds and nature.

Mark with his wife Jean on the Golden Gate Trail at Mt. Rainier

“My interest in parks and education has followed me throughout my career. I think it stems from my biological science background and the dual jobs my dad held: school principal and summer maintenance worker at a state park. Various seasonal park jobs led to me to Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. A friend of mine passed through on his way to Seattle and I impulsively followed him when the season ended. My first job in Seattle was working as a tour guide at the Ballard Locks.”

“I started my career with the City of Seattle in the Parks department as a park naturalist at Camp Long. It made sense to me since I was always interested in becoming a park ranger. Along the way great things continued to happen. We had our first child and I also transitioned into a new role with City Light as a Public Education Program Specialist. The interview panel had me teach a lesson to 40 fourth graders!”

“I still explore nature through birding. In college, I took a class in ornithology. It just connected with me. Jean and I like to visit Juanita Bay Park to birdwatch. My favorite birds are the roseate spoonbill and any warbler. They’re full of vibrant, bright colors. That yellow is amazing. My birding dream is to kiss a puffin on its beak. Carefully, of course.”

“I also have the nature element in my job as I oversee the marketing for Skagit Tours. We promote the tours and make sure that this fun, amazing place spills over with exuberance to the folks we encourage to travel up there. It’s a beautiful place – North Cascades is one of my favorite national parks.  My bucket list park would be Glacier Bay in Alaska. I want to get to it someday!”